A ‘perfect storm’ brews for state CIOs to show leadership

According to Rick Webb, former state chief information officer for the state of North Carolina, the fiscal crises besetting state and local governments presents the perfect opportunity for state CIOs to showcase the power of technology to deal with a “perfect storm” of declining budgets and increasing demand for services.

“CIOs are feeling enormous pressure to demonstrate spend and investment value,” Mr. Webb said. But the budgetary challenges also present an opportunity to “enhance the relevance of the CIO and look for ways to drive out costs – not just across-the-board cuts, but ways to change the way government operates.”

Mr. Webb is now the chief technology officer for Accenture’s State and Local Government practice and he believes that some states are going to bold – like his native North Carolina governor Bev Perdue who recently announced plans to consolidate 14 agencies down to eight, while looking to outsource broad swaths of IT, human resources, and procurement.

“They’ve already gone through cuts and cuts and more cuts,” he said.

Washington governor Chris Gregoire recently announced similar plans after a $4.6 billion budget gap was discovered. The Washington plan would reduce the number of state agencies from 21 to 9, the governor indicated, including the creation of a Department of Enterprise Services.

Mr. Webb says that these fiscal challenges are joined by other trends that have potential utility for savvy CIOs. New technology trends, increasing citizen demands and demographic shifts in the government workforce can have positive impacts, if CIOs are able to focus beyond typical network problems and e-mail outages.

According to a report issued by Mr. Webb earlier this year, there are four areas crucial to making IT a more integral contributor to government. They include developing a collaborative IT governance structure across jurisdictional boundaries, restructuring government IT organizations to drive out costs and increase efficiencies, incorporating more public/private partnerships and using new technologies (in more secure environments).

“Shared services is about as exciting as watching paint dry,” Webb joked. “But 8-12% of budgets are in back office operations – it’s a tremendous way to streamline.”

Mr. Webb’s report mentions Ohio Shared Services (OSS) – the first state government shared services organization for financial transactions. OSS was able to answer incoming citizen inquiries within 30 seconds, 94 percent of the time; work with the state’s largest employee labor union to build a service-oriented, self-directed workforce; and streamline processes and technologies across a number of adjoining agencies.

“We’re seeing a lot of discussion especially around shared services – a lot of talk about redundancies in services and redundancies in programs.”

As for areas where CIOs will continue to push budget boundaries, Mr. Webb says, “people will continue to invest in security, they’ll continue to look at ways to leverage emerging technology that gives citizens more input and buy-in.” But he also warned, “I think its going to be very tough – some deficits are just astounding, and as NASBO has said, next year will be tougher than the last few.”

Beyond the organizational and technical skills needed to fully realize IT’s transformative potential, Mr. Webb said that CIOs are also going to have to dabble in politics, recognizing that politics are alive and well for CIOs, especially during budget crises.

“Can CIOs get a seat at the table? Can they drive change from a technology and policy perspective?”

“The challenge is there, the question is will CIOs step up? The CIO can emerge stronger for all this – they need to be the jack of all trades and master of them all.”

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